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Cobourg and Peterborough – Sick Visitors

Peter Robinson’s Irish settlers, who arrived at Cobourg beach in 1824, were an early example of things to come.

four bronze statues on a patch of green grass by the shore, standing at a distance from each other, turned towards the lake, one statue has its arms raised, one statue is a stooped, another is lying on the ground

Toronto’s Irish Famine Memorial, “Arrival”, by Rowan Gillespie, 2007


In 1847, 25,000 Irish immigrants, seeking to escape starvation in Ireland, died of cholera on their way to America or shortly after their arrival. That year, 5,393 immigrants landed at Cobourg in poor health. The Board of Police had to provide temporary shelter for them in barn-like “immigrant sheds”. Approximately half of them moved northward to Peterborough, but many remained in and around Cobourg.

Two years later, the Cobourg Star must have been echoing a common complaint from the Town’s citizens when it wrote:

Several steamers plying between Toronto and Kingston have lately deposited numbers of sick and helpless emigrants on our wharf, although their passages were paid to Toronto, Hamilton and other places. It is preposterous that a small town like this should be deluged with these poor people while the wealthy cities turn them off… and is obliged to provide for them from the very small sum annually collected for local improvements.   (Cobourg Star, July 25, 1849)

a sepia coloured photograph of a five shilling promissory note issued by The President and Board of Police of the Town of Cobourg, No. 1346 dated 29th March 1848, with a picture of three sailboats and a lighthouse, signed by the Board President, Asa Burnham

Faced with a shortage of money, Cobourg issued its own municipal notes in 1848.

All this in the midst of a depression both locally and internationally!